Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Thorn Birds - Colleen McCullough

The Thorn BirdsI picked this book up purely for the Popsugar Reading Challenge, to fulfill the category "A book your mother loves."  The Thorn Birds is her favorite book, though I don't remember her reading it or even owning a copy of it.  In fact, I would have never, ever guessed that this was her favorite book--except that when we were in Italy for my sister's wedding last September, my mother got a little tipsy (well, more than a little--she was, to be fair, having an extraordinarily bad week) and got involved in a conversation with an Australian tourist who asked us to take a picture for her.  At some point during the conversation, The Thorn Birds came up.  I obviously assumed that it came up because the book takes place in Australia, so imagine my dismay when I began reading it and found the setting was New Zealand!  Did my other actually not know the difference between Australia and New Zealand?  No, it couldn't be true.  Maybe she just hadn't read the book in a while, and was mis-remembering the setting.  That was entirely possible, wasn't it?  But as I kept reading, I became immensely relieved.  Yes, the book starts in New Zealand, but the setting quickly moves to Australia and stays there for most of the book.  Whew!  What a close call!

The Thorn Birds is the story of the Cleary family.  Originally living in New Zealand, they move to Australia to live and work on Drogheda, a massive sheep farming operation owned by the sister of Paddy Cleary, the patriarch of the Cleary family.  The "main" character in this book, if there can be one more so than others, is Meggie, Paddy's daughter, who is only a few years old when the book begins and is in her fifties when it ends.  Throughout the book, Meggie grows up and experiences all sorts of things, most of them focused around a priest named Ralph who is quickly climbing through the ranks of the Catholic church.  Meggie's mother, Fee, also features prominently, and so do her two eventual children, Justine and Dane.  The rest of the family is present, of course, but typically don't feature as strongly as those few.

The Thorn Birds, because of its sweeping scope of time and location and happenings, is a bit hard to describe, except in that it reminded me immensely of Gone with the Wind.  Now, Gone with the Wind is my favorite book, so maybe it's suitable that The Thorn Birds is my mother's.  Just as Gone with the Wind is a love story but also a powerful historical fiction, a story about people who had gumption and people who didn't, so is The Thorn Birds.  They're very different in time, place, and characters, but they still had a similar writing style and feel to them, which was awesome.  I think this a great book for people who liked Gone with the Wind for the feel and artful writing and are opening to trying something set in a completely different locale and era.  I'll definitely need to obtain a copy of this for my own collection, once the library book goes back to the library.  It's not a book I imagine myself reading often, because it's just too long and heavy for that, but much like Gone with the Wind I can see myself picking it up now and then when I need something that's just plain good.

4.5 stars out of 5!

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